You fall in love with a man who has children. You fall in love with a woman who has children. These children are small, you are then thrown into the flow of those children’s everyday life. Quite possibly against the will of the other biological parent, themselves AND maybe even yourself. Custody can take a strain on the children, the biological parents and the new marriage that is involved.
This is not always as fairytale as it is made out to be. Those children have been raised by different people. With different standards. They may have completely different moral upbringings than yourself or your own children moving into the picture as well.
How you think you will step parent:
It is easy to say “They are just kids, they’ll come around” or say “I will leave the parenting to the biological parents and be the children’s friend” or “I am going to be the cool parent in their lives”, but those adages do not solve every case. Custody can sway to whichever family shows the most ‘best interest’ for the children.
Custody does not hinge on who ‘loves’ them the most. Being brought in with custody issues, stay at home step moms and step dads have to still have some authority to discipline when the biological parent is at the store, work or school. They need authority in the home to command respect and not be walked on or played into the hands of either of the biological parents during custody disputes.
It’s always easy to judge from an outside perspective and think that you really would not have THAT much hands-on time. Especially when both you and your spouse work. But consider you marry someone who has a toddler. They decide to run to the store, are you going to stop potty training or refuse to change a diaper or not feed them until that parent returns? Are you going to ask the child politely to listen and not draw on the walls because it is not your place to discipline when they are caught doing something wrong and let them continue? Are you going to let step children sibling fights get completely out of hand because you have no authority to get them to listen?
For your step children’s sake, I hope not. In some instances, step parenting can be wonderful. Both biological parents may be mature enough to understand that love is going to be found after their separation and that embracing more people who love your children is what is best for your children.
How the biological parents behave:
In other cases, there is not always maturity. There is bitterness, anger, resentment or even pure hatred. Splitting the children and pitting them against one or the other parent. There could be one parent pushing and coercing their children to say or speak bad things in order to gain custody. And when a step parent signs up in to that sort of situation the biggest target becomes on that step parent’s back.
In my experience, Step Parenting started off rather easy. The children took to me quickly and loved all of my extended family. Once their biological mom realized I was here to stay, things took a sharp turn for the worse. Custody became an issue as things had deteriorated for the children after my arrival. And with that, Step parenting became a battlefield on my own home front of requesting respect, asking my husband to back my play, and ensuring the children I was not there to replace anyone.
Pick up and drop offs became panic driven. How will the children behave today? Are they untainted and excited about the week we have planned, or have they been coerced into thinking time with us is just to be mean to their mom? Is our birthday party as good as hers? Will they complain again about every meal I cook vs. their mom? This holiday will the children be excited, or crying again because of how sad their mom is that they are with us? Will they bring up the custody hearing and say what their mom has told them this week? How many weeks will this continue? For me, it’s going on 3 years.
There are resources for blended families and custody like therapy and family counseling that can help. But if there is not a concrete team in your particular home, no amount of therapy can withstand the pangs from being pitted in the middle of a situation you were not even a part of from the start. Finger pointing, bad behavior and resentment will rise in the children so quickly in some of their most formative years, that it can take the hand of God and His wisdom to undo the work of bitter men and women in their lives.
I am not saying in cannot happen, but the journey to perfection when starting out on such a bumpy road seems unbearable. It can seem as though there is no end in sight. It may be best to bow out for their sakes. But it isn’t. You are the only parent, you and your spouse, who are willing to fight for the best for them then you have to understand there is a purpose.
We may not understand the journey. Or why the road is so rocky right now or why custody even needed to be brought into question, but children thrive on consistency. Be there and be a light in their lives. They will come to see it. You have to hope that you are around to see them see it. Otherwise, have faith that God has brought you together with the person you are meant to be with. Only you two can take on the forces of the world together. Only you two can make it through this littered history together. Dig through the dirt road and begin building pavers that will guide a better way than what once was.
In the end, marrying someone is not something to take lightly regardless of what society is pushing marriage to look like. And when children are involved, time and understanding is the only thing that will help you persevere. Especially when custody though court is going to be in play. Sometimes it feels like we are wandering through the woods with no humanity in sight, but there is always humanity outside of the woods and there is always light at the end of the tunnel.